It’s a serious question. Why do you come to worship? A lot of people don’t these days. Some of them are Christian. Anne Rice, a famous writer who converted to Christianity, has now stated that she has “left the church.” She still believes in Jesus, but she’s given up on his followers.
Why do you come to worship? There are lots of different reasons, as many reasons for coming to worship as there might be for not coming to worship. Perhaps you come to connect with your friends who are also coming to worship. Perhaps you come to sing a song, or to hear a sermon, hoping you will get something to take with you through the week. Sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t.
Just lately, my heart was warmed when I read an interview with writer Anne Lamott. She was asked how she kept “charged up” in her spiritual life. She replied, “I go to church every Sunday, which is like going to the gas station and really, really filling up.” That made me smile.
Why do you come to worship? Do you come to get something, or do you come to give something?
You might expect me, a pastor, to take the position that you come to worship to give something, rather than get something. Worship in our tradition is called “the work of the people”, the liturgy, and it is an act of corporate devotion given to God, the work of the gathered community. You might also expect me to take issue with the position that we come to worship to “get something.”
However, I don’t see worship as an either/or. I see it as a both/and.
Certainly, I want us to remember that when we are at worship, we are offering our hearts, our lives, to God, in prayer and in praise. We are giving something to God – and when we come to worship, we are also giving something to one another – by showing up and singing and praying together, by kneeling and standing (as we are able) together, by listening to one another’s joys and sorrows.
But of course, as Anne Lamott wrote, we are also getting something – we are getting something from God – bread and wine, Christ’s body and blood and the assurances of Christ’s presence, not just for an hour on Sunday, but in all our lives. We are getting something: hope, peace, love – from God – and from one another. You never know who might need you to be there in worship today, who might need to hear your voice, singing, who might need to see your tears.
As for me, today I needed to see a three-year-old girl, “running the race set before her”, during the children’s message. (Of course, the other children too!) I needed to hear all of your voices during the hymns, and the murmuring of names of your cloud of witnesses.
So, why do you come to worship? It’s a serious question. I hope you’ll take time to tell me.
(in some form or another, this will be my church newsletter column this month.)